The shire of ‘halls creek’… the heart of gold!

Back out on the Great Northern Highway our journey of some 100-kilometres would now take us through Halls creek and beyond to the remote Tanami Track.

Halls Creek sits on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert and is located between the towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Warnum (Turkey Creek).

This is very much an indigenous township with a strong cultural heritage of long occupation by the Jaru, Kija, Kukatja, Walmajarri, Gooniyandi Aboriginal people who still live in and around the small town and is said to be land crossed by many song-lines and trading paths stretching from the coast to the desert.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been surrounded by mountains, dramatic gorges, and in formidable desert –  but then there’s little Australian outback towns that add a distinct character to the Australian outback that you don’t find anywhere else – and Halls Creek is well known as an Aussie towns that comes with a little bit of a reputation.

Having visited a few years back, our approach to this small goldmining town was with some sense of trepidation and apart from our need for fill up with fuel before the Tanami, it was to be a brief visit.

The first European to explore this area was Alexander Forrest In 1879 in search of minerals for wealth, and land for cattle – but it wasn’t until Christmas Day 1885 when prospector Charlie Hall (whom the town was named after) and Jack Slattery found a huge 28-ounce (nearly 1 kilogram) gold nugget at a site that it would eventually become Western Australia’s first gold mining town –  a thriving shanty town boasting two hotels, a post office, a gold wardens office, and hundreds of humpies made from wood, stone, canvas and tin!

Today, Halls Creek is far from the shanty settlement it was in the late 1800’s… in fact its location is now 16-kilometres from where its humble beginnings began with the old township totally abandoned by 1954 after being relocated to its present location in 1948.

Its subsequent move was mostly due to lack of water but gradually as more and more residents began to move closer to infrastructure (as it developed) – first the construction of the airport and then the re-routing of the Derby- Kununurra Road now known as the Great Northern Highway… so the new township sprung up!

With the Shire of Halls Creek covering some 142,908 square kilometres of mostly desert and pastoral country this township now functions mostly as a major hub for the local indigenous population, a support centre for cattle stations and isolated communities and a base for an ever-increasing tourist trade with the Duncan Highway, the Tanami Track and Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park close by.

Our first stop when we arrived was the Information Centre to gather information needed for the Tanami Track and then after a quick jaunt around town to check out a couple of statues, the wooden totems that mark an historic trail around town and the Yarliyil Artists Centre, we set off to check out the historic lures that lie on the outskirts of settlement.

The Halls Creek Visitor Centre had had a noticeable make-over since our last visit and the now modern centre offered an abundance of tourist information for the area and beyond. It was full of colourful souvenirs with a strong indigenous flavour and boasted a lovely coffee shop, clean amenities and very friendly staff.

Out the front a dusty, dry park offered plenty of shade, seating and rubbish bins and a few statues and information boards told stories of the early Gold Mining history.

The statue of Jack Jugarie situated right outside the centre commemorates a Jaru Elder who worked as a Police Tracker. At the ripe old age of seventy Jack, using his traditional skills to find food and water, and with the stars to guide him, he walked 350-kilometres across the harsh country from Halls Creek to Wyndham…

… and Russian Jack was made famous for wheeling his sick friend 300 miles through the Kimberley’s harsh landscape to Halls Creek for medical help. His statue stands opposite the Council Offices.

The Trackers hut built in 1959, was a residence for Aboriginal Police Trackers and today explains the history of Halls Creeks. It symbolises the tracking skills of the Aboriginal people and provides a lasting testimony of their valuable work.

This is one town that just can’t be missed on this highway… that is unless you travel the rugged Gibb River Road!

We had been told numerous times by other tourist to avoid stopping here but this trip we decided to stop and delve into the past of this little town… and we were not disappointed as we discovered the local Aboriginal and gold mining history and explored the outskirts – Caroline Pools, China Wall, the Old Town, Palm Springs and Sawpit Gorge!

Since our last trip this shabby, run down town had been tidied up somewhat and the locals we encountered in the street were very pleasant and friendly and quick to wave or call out a ‘g’day – ‘av’n a nice day’.

We wandered around town and checked out the signage on the nine hand-crafted wooden totems, each telling a story of the history and culture of this town and the surrounding district. This 2-kilometre walk encompassed beautiful artwork on totem poles, rubbish bins, car bonnets and at local tourist attractions throughout the Shire, all painted by talented local school and TAFE students… and certainly added a bit of colour to this barren outback settlement.

For us Halls Creek was worthy of a pit-stop and although there might not appear to be much at first, check out the Visitor Information Centre, chat to the friendly staff and grab some info… there’s so much to do in and around this little outback town.

The Duncan Road is one road we always seem to overlook when we travelled this way – usually because we had other sights on our bucket list to visit – but this 429- kilometre track that was the original road between Halls Creek and Kununurra will definitely go on that list for next trip!

This dirt road follows the line of the White Mountain Hills and Ord River and criss-crosses back and forward over the Northern Territory (NT) and Western Australian border until it eventually exits near the Gregory and Keep River National Parks in the NT.

Today however, we planned on exploring a short section of this road – as far as the ruins of the original ‘Old Halls Creek Township’.

Construction of the ‘The Duncan Road’ took place between 1950 and 1956 along rough remote cattle station tracks and was originally created as a means to allow pastoralist to access a reliable route to transport their cattle to the meatworks in Wyndham.

It is still a pretty rugged track with no services… so make sure you stock up with extra fuel and the essentials if you intend making this trip – as the sign in Halls Creek suggests, it’s a long way to the next service centre!

Leaving town, it wasn’t difficult to find this road – a big brown ‘T’ sign, just up the road from the Tourist Information Centre pointed us in the direction…

… but before we even left town our first stop was the Rodeo Grounds on the outskirts where we pulled in to view a memorial dedicated to the memory of helicopter pilots killed in accidents while working in the pastoral industry across northern Australia. 

It was then on to the China Wall.

Travelling east the road passes a large outcrop of white quartz reef resembling a distinct wall. This amazing wall rises out of a creek bed, spreads across the ground up to 6 metres in places, then stretches for some kilometres over a small hill before disappearing back into the earth. It is believed to be part of the longest single fault of its type in the world.

Another few kilometres down the road we turned off to Caroline Pool where a short drive offered a quiet spot for a picnic and a swim in the Elvira River… but unfortunately, even though the temperature had climbed to 38 degrees, a swim was not on the agenda for us!

Caroline Pool is set amongst shady trees and wide sandy creek banks and is known as Wimirri in the Jaru language.  This was an important water source in the days of the early gold rush and a place where families would come on weekends to swim and play sport on the river sand… but today it was a very dry river bed!

A little further along this rough track we came to the ruins of an old stone hut.  
Originally the horse track from Wyndham to Old Halls Creek closely followed the important watering points and this ‘Old Stone Hut’, situated on Sophie Downs, was the last rest stop for travellers before heading into Old Halls Creek.

Our next stop was the ‘Old Halls Creek township’ itself, and the site of the first gold discovery in Western Australia!

Once news of the gold strike in the ‘far west’ broke to the world an endless procession of prospectors came on ships to Wyndham and made their way to the gold fields here at Halls Creek…. many dying before they even arrived as they crossed the waterless desert and crocodile infested waters. Many just turned back!

At one time, this town was home to more than 15,000 prospectors from all over the world, but the harsh Kimberley country soon proved extremely tough and inhospitable to these people. Dysentery, scurvy, sun- stroke and simple thirst took its toll and with machinery too costly to transport and gold finds inadequate, most packed up and headed south… thus the Halls Creek gold rush lasted less than 3-months.

All that remains of this eerie ghost town today are a few ruins, some visible streets lined with street signs detailing what building once stood there… and the walls of the old mud brick post office now covered with a corrugated roof structure to help preserve it and enclosed with wire!

A lonely obelisk and plaque to commemorate David Carnegie’s expedition of 1896 stood on the hill overlooking the ruins.

David Carnegie was an explorer and gold prospector who, in his quest to find good pastoral or gold-bearing land, and to make a name for himself as an explorer, led an expedition through this unexplored and unmapped country from Coolgardie through the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts to Halls Creek and then back again.

Particularly haunting was the old cemetery, testament to the tragic ill-fated and ill-equipped settlers who came in search of gold and struggled with the harshness of this remote desert life. 

One grave, dating back to 1909 was the burial place of a man who died of thirst in the Tanami Desert… another was the grave of stockman James ‘Jimmy’ Darcy whose story inspired the Royal Flying Doctor Service when, after being injured at work on a station, was brought by buggy to Halls Creek on a journey that took over 12 hours. Unfortunately, on arrival it was found that the town had no hospital or doctor. 

Strangely, on the track to the old cemetery there was also a fairly basic caravan park that offered camping at $10 per vehicle for an unpowered spot. Probably not somewhere we would choose to set up camp but apparently ‘The Lodge’ is a mecca for fossickers with many people returning year after year to try their luck at striking a fortune!

Continuing on further east along the Duncan Road we passed wild horses and the remnants of an old homestead…

… and finally came to the Black Elvire River. Here, close to the road was the delightful ‘Palm Springs’ – a permanent freshwater pool, small campground and a long drop loo just across the road.

Known as Lugangarna in Jaru language this pleasant surprise was a spring fed, permanent freshwater pool, which flowed to join the Elvire River and only a short walk further afield was another spring fed pool, which was once the ‘Old Halls Creek’ towns water supply.

This famed oasis in the desert was apparently an important resting place for the Afghan teamsters, who played a prominent role in the early days of Halls Creek and were believed to have planted the original date palms in this area… hence the name Palm Springs!

The last pioneer to live and work at the springs was an Afghan man by the name of Sam Hazlett who regularly cleaned out the reeds and overgrowth. Sam and his Aboriginal wife, Duddru, lived here for many years using the springs for drinking water and to grow vegetables, which they sold in Halls Creek…

… but since his death in the 1980’s no one has lived here permanently or cared for the springs – so we declined the opportunity of a swim after we were told we might be lucky enough to see one of the shy freshwater crocodiles that resided in the waterholes.

An old Aboriginal man called Wellman also lived here and worked in the gardens with Sam. He was known as ‘Wellman’ because he was the man who collected the water from the well. Wellman Road in Halls Creek is now named in his honour. 

Further out along the road we came to the last of the major gorges close to Halls Creek and another popular camping spot, Sawpit Gorge.

Besides the permanent water here, the most striking feature of this spot was the magnificent towering rock wall where, over thousands of years, floodwaters from the Black Elvire River have cut through the range.

Not long after leaving Sawpit Gorge and the undulating country we entered open pastoral country that is famous for its cattle production and the reason why this track was constructed in the first place!

This was the end of the road for us but I am sure, going by the country we had travelled of late, this road would reward a wanderer with many special features of  a variety of terrain – flat open pastoral land to magnificent gorges, water crossings and water holes.

Back at Halls Creek we filled up with fuel then hit the highway again. 

For those who want to continue along the Great Northern Highway through Fitzroy Crossing and Derby to Broome read on from here… https://tassiesnowbirds.com/2018/10/02/you-take-the-low-road-and-we’ll-take-the-high-road-and-we’ll-meet-you-in-derby/

Just beyond Halls Creek the Great Northern Highway swings to the south onto the iconic Tanami Track (now called a road), the longest shortcut in the country.

2 ½ hours and 130-kilometres later, after travelling over bone jarring and teeth chattering corrugations we finally arrived at a dry, dusty, treeless campground set in the Wolfe Creek National Park.

This is the second largest meteorite crater in the world, made famous by the Australian movie, ‘Wolf Creek’.

This was to be our first camp on the Tanami.

The ‘Tanami Track’ crosses the north-eastern corner of the Tanami Desert through the red heart of Australia between the Great Northern Highway south of Halls Creek to the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory… one thousand one hundred kilometres of ever-changing desert where there is so much to see.

Another perfect Outback experience begins on the Tanami as we journey through ever-changing scenery and rugged terrain between Halls Creek and Alice Springs.

Vibrant, blue skies and red, sandy soil to be seen into the horizon as the outback comes to life in front of your eyes… come with us as we take in the beauty and enormity of our surroundings on our journey to the ‘red centre’!

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